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OTHER VIEWS

Festival teardown goes as smoothly as its operation

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By Peter Thomson
Columnist

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Now the seats are all empty, let the roadies take the stage. Pack it up and tear it down.” — Jackson Browne, “The Load Out”

Six p.m. Sunday, Main and Water streets. As the last amplified chords rang out someone leaned hard into a mic and growled, “That’s it!” Most of the remainder crowd, still applauding, turned and trundled down the street, others started bagging their folding chairs, with just a few staying for a final goodbye. Along both streets concessionaires, already half-packed, were taking down the flimsy façades of the traveling booths and putting gaudy synthetic material into hard-sided packing cases. They’d be done in minutes.

As the crowd straggled out, vendors’ vans and trucks sidled slowly into the empty road to remove the pipes, angle irons and goodies, followed closely by the cleanup volunteers. By 6:30 p.m., the main performance area was being dismantled. It was one of those imposing modular stages with electric connections and tubing. But it took a crew of yellow-shirted volunteers to break it down and fold it into itself like a giant Transformer toy. The crew, with City Manager Rich Olson pitching in, stripped the stairs and rails, supports and struts, tossed the iron up to willing hands and strapped them down. The sides came up, overhanging roofs were lowered hydraulically. Once together, except for some exposed pipe fittings, it looked like any other large steel-sided trailer.

On Main Street the fire department had arrived. While police cars kept traffic at bay, firemen with spray tanks on their backs put non-toxic cleaner on the marks used to delineate booth areas. Then fire hoses were unshipped and the street washed down.

A blue-shirted volunteer cleanup crew with pickup pincers, crisscrossed the area gathering loose scraps of paper and bits of funnel cake, stuffing them into trash cans and then manhandling those to pickup points.

The Main Stage’s large tow truck was guided backward by a black-shirted roadie. Moving it an inch here, a half inch there, the ball at the rear was guided to a position under the tow hitch. Hydraulically the hitch was lowered onto the ball, double-secured and then with a clank and a screech the big rig started back to Wilmington through a corridor opened by the cops.

The last of the blue-shirts searched for a final scrap. The street was cleaner now than on the Thursday before the festival. The firemen rolled up their hoses, Rich took a last look around, shook hands with the chief and left; the street cleaning truck came around the corner and started a final scour.

Elizabeth City’ N.C. Potato Festival is really a triumph of organization and coordination. Most festival-goers didn’t see the emergency medical technicians ready to act or the fire trucks parked nearby. They probably didn’t notice the police presence or the constant flow of volunteers doing the cleaning and monitoring and replenishing of the volunteer booths. And that’s the way it should be. After all they’re there for continuous music, crazy, fattening food, (fried Oreos?) and new and wonderful rides.

One can argue about the value of the festival to the town, that it could be organized to have a more positive economic impact, and whether or not our tax dollars should support this non-profit fundraiser; but one thing’s for sure: these folks sure know how to put on an event. These folks are: Elizabeth City Downtown, Debbie Malenfant, Rich Olson, Angela Cole, an army of volunteers and the unobtrusive city departments that that together made it happen so smoothly. Good job, folks!

Peter Thomson is a resident of Elizabeth City.

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